Gearing up for my new job

Getting everything in place

In three weeks, I will be at my new job. It seems surreal. I am finishing up with my current job, just trying to get all my “ducks in a row”… along with rolling with all the change that’s going on in the organization.

It’s a hard time for most people there. And it’s hard to not get pulled down into their frame of mind.

So, to counter-act that, I am expanding my skillset and gearing up for the next stage in my career. I’m taking some courses that will get me prepared for my new job — and my new career. I’ve always been out on the “front lines” of my industry, and this is giving me the chance to get out ahead of it again.

It’s pretty amazing. Exciting. And the beauty part is, the line of work I’m getting into is so new, there are no real college degrees in it, so the fact that I don’t have a Bachelor’s or Master’s doesn’t work against me. Nobody has that, yet. It’s all about practical results. Being able to do the job. Produce the numbers. Meet the need that my employer has.

I’ve got them covered, in that respect.

Anyway, I’m feeling like I have a new lease on life, with this new job. I’m finally getting out of the rut I fell into, when I crashed my head down those stairs in 2004. It’s taken me 10 years (and a few months) to get myself functional again the way I want to be… the way I need to be. And I still have a ways to go.

I can get there. I’m not going to be held back. I can use the same sorts of skills I developed in my TBI recovery to recover my career, as well.

Now, this isn’t all happening overnight, and it’s not happening in a vacuum. Nor is it some situation where my fairy godmother or a genie from a bottle is showing up to shower pixie dust on me. I have put in a lot of hard work, over the past years, to get to this point. I have been studying and studying, working and working. Back when I was injured in 2004 until around 2010, I was unable to read books the way I had before. I had always been an avid reader, but I lost the ability to keep information in mind long enough to go from page to page. I would literally lose the train of thought if it went on past several paragraphs.

So, I quit reading, period. I read websites, in bits and pieces… news… etc. Whatever I could, without wiping myself out. I studied TBI and the brain, because that was the only thing that held my attention. It was the only motivated reading I could do, and even that was in fits and starts. One of the books that changed my life — The Brain That Changes Itself — I had to read in bits and pieces. In fact, I’m not sure I ever completely finished it (I should do that now).

I surfed the web and researched brain injury. I struggled to find really good sources of information — partly because there weren’t as many out there as there are today, and partly because it was hard for me to sort through all the search results and decide what was helpful and what wasn’t.

I also studied trauma and its effects. I managed to read a few books about trauma, but it was slow going. I had to find summaries online to really make sense of things.

Over time, my ability to read improved — ironically it came back after I had given up on it completely and decided, “Well, I’ll never read again…” It was slow going — fits and starts. But eventually it came back, and I worked my way back slowly.

One of the books I read (Aging With Grace – a study of nuns who outlived the surrounding population by 10-20 years and stayed sharper and functional longer than was typical for their geographical area) showed how “idea density” can contribute to holding off Alzheimers and other kinds of cognitive decline. Basically, with “idea density”, the more ideas that are packed into a sentence / paragraph, the more “dense” are the ideas. And I found out that scientific research papers had a lot of idea density. Not the most, but a pretty decent amount.

So, I started actively looking for scientific papers about TBI that related to me. Long-term outcomes. Childhood head trauma. Behavior issues. Mood disorders. Mental health issues. Sports injuries. Recovery approaches. Rehab. Frontal lobe and executive function. Mindfulness. I specifically searched for information that related to me, that would be useful and meaningful… and I could put to good use.

All together, over the course of several years, I found and downloaded over 300 research papers about TBI and TBI recovery. There were a lot more that I found and did not download. I did not read all of them from beginning to end, but I did read the summaries and abstracts, and sometimes I read the discussions recapping all their findings.

That was the best rehabilitation I could have asked for, because it was intimately related to me, it was self-directed, and I believe it even helped with my gist reasoning.  When I did read the whole papers, and then I read the abstracts again, I could piece together the central theme of the data that was collected, and learn to screen out the things that did not matter. So, many, many researchers have indirectly contributed to my recovery.

Slowly but surely, I’ve felt my abilities improve. It took time, and it took a lot of diligent effort. Each and every day, just about. Each and every weekend. On my free time. During my not-so-free time. I have had a total life orientation towards TBI recovery that has paid off.

I never felt like there was a choice for me. I have been given a lot of gifts in life, and I believe it’s on me to ensure that I return the favor to the universe — or whoever else has helped me.  I really feel that sense of responsibility. Even when I’ve been at my worst, I never lost sight of that. I knew I had to get back… I was on a mission.

Now I can read books again. And I can remember what I read, pages and chapters later. Miraculous. And I’m gearing up for my new job by reading some more. And thinking. And taking some classes. One class I started, but I’ve realized it’s best that I do another class first, so that I have a better foundation. I also need to strengthen some of my skills, including math. Geometry has always made perfect sense to me, and I was doing advanced fractions when I was in elementary school, years before most kids even had a concept of fractions.

It all just made perfect sense.

But over the years, that sense got kind of trained out of me, because nobody was really qualified to help me excel. They were so busy trying to get kids “normalized”, and I was so un-normal in some ways, that they focused on my weaknesses, rather than my strengths. And in the process, any latent ability I had for advanced materials got lost in the shuffle because of my attention/distraction difficulties, behavior issues, and trouble understanding what people were saying to me. I kept getting punished because I simply did not understand.

Now things are different. I’m all grown up. At least that’s what they tell me 😉 And I have to let go of that earlier conditioning. I’m not stupid. I’m just out of synch with a lot of the world. And now I have a new chance to start fresh in a line of work that suits me so well, it’s scary. I’m going to my dream job in less than three weeks, and I want to be ready for it.

So, I’m studying. I’m finding more papers to read, that have to do with my new field, rather than only TBI. I’m also pacing myself, taking my time, not getting ahead of myself and being very systematic about my approach. Because it matters to me so deeply, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow.

On top of it, I have an appointment tomorrow with a trainer who focuses on strengthening specific neurological features. I’ve been reading about this method over the past couple of weeks, and I’m very excited to see what comes of our meeting tomorrow.

It’s all good.

Onward.

St. Barbara of Arrowsmith-Young

Thanks for the help this past Sunday

So, on Sunday I spent the afternoon reading Barbara Arrowsmith-Young’s “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”, about how she learned how to identify the underlying issues beneath her severe learning disabilities, which had made her life a living hell for 26 years of her life. I found the book for free on Scribd.com — my new favorite place of all time. You can read the book for free here: https://www.scribd.com/book/224350322/The-Woman-Who-Changed-Her-Brain-And-Other-Inspiring-Stories-of-Pioneering-Brain-Transformation – you just need a free login.

Anyway, I am finding a lot of similarities between her situation and mine, despite obvious differences. And it occurs to me that after hearing a number of accounts of her hitting her head (running into things, banging her head before she started to study, etc.) TBI might just factor into her account. She focuses on the learning disabilities parts, rather than the root cause, so that makes the book more accessible for folks who have had any kind of difficulty with learning and understanding and communicating — me included.

One section in particular jumped out at me yesterday:

I recall a twelve-year-old student with average intelligence but whose severe weaknesses in both the left and right prefrontal cortexes left her as compliant as a young child — so compliant that other children would toy with her and order her to stand and sit on command or to stay in the schoolyard long after recess was over or to surrender her Nintendo game. Her neurological weaknesses had robber her of her ability to evaluate a command and decide whether it should be obeyed. She addressed her problem areas and eventually was able to say no.

That’s pretty much me — but in very different kinds of situations. I didn’t have a problem with being compliant and going along with others as a kid. If anything, I was defiant and went against what anyone and everyone told me to do (except for my love interests — they could always boss me around).

The compliance and obedience and lack of questioning happened in adulthood. And I wonder if the three car accidents, the fall off the back of the truck, and the occasional head-banging — all in my early adulthood — might have affected my prefrontal cortexes to the point where I would just compliantly do whatever my spouse told me to do.

If that’s the case — and my compliance has been neurological, rather than emotional or character-based — then that’s a huge relief. And it means I can do something about it. For close to 20 years, I pretty much went along with whatever my spouse told me to do. It wasn’t so pronounced in the beginning, but then it got worse.

I had a car accident in 1997 where I was rear-ended, and I couldn’t read for several days. The letters swam on the page, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I recall feeling weird and shaky and being a bit “off” for some time after the car accident, and I wonder if maybe that affected my prefrontal cortexes and made me more compliant. People around me thought my spouse was bullying me, that they were being abusive and domineering, but honestly, I just went along… because it was the only thing that seemed useful to me.

I need to check around to find out more.

Anyway, that’s just one part of the book that I’m really enjoying. There are a number of different places where I recognize myself — the hesitance, the inability to get things done, the self-regulation problems… I’m not sure I want to think about them in terms of learning disabilities, but rather brain capabilities. And they apply to all kinds of situations, not just educational ones. That’s something that the author talks about a lot — how addressing these learning disabilities will improve functioning in the rest of life.

What Barbara Arrowsmith-Young has done is remarkable. She’s really figured it out — and from the inside, not from the outside. It’s amazing. I’m a huge fan, and if I were religious, I’d recommend her for sainthood. Her story is one of the reasons I got myself into neuropsych rehab, in the first place — when I read Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” her story stood out for me more than any others. Because she took it on herself, and she did the work, instead of having someone else do it for her. And now she’s passing it on to others. She does public lectures. She has her Arrowsmith School. She’s written a book.

Unfortunately for me (and probably many others), the Arrowsmith School is expensive. And it’s in Canada, which is not an impossible distance from me, but still… I have to go to my job each day, I don’t have a lot of money to spend, and I’m thinking there must be another way to get this kind of help without being locked into a specific location, or paying someone to get me on track.

Again, I come back to living my life as the best recovery. Living fully and reflectively. Mindfully. Engaged. All those catchwords that basically say,

Do the best you can each and every day…

Be honest with yourself about what’s going on…

Learn from books and movies and the world around you, your experiences, your teachers and your mistakes…

Change what you can so you do better next time…

And share what you learn with others.

Absent the resources to enroll in the Arrowsmith School for months (if not years), and with the help from a handful of competent professionals, I seem to be making decent progress.

Speaking of which, I’ve got some chores to do.

Onward.